I posted a blog last February titled Park Life as it concerned a pair of Whooper Swans that had appeared on Abbey Pool in Kenilworth and a Juv. Iceland Gull which had taken up residence on Swanhurst Pool in the Birmingham suburb of Moselely, both of which are located in parks. I took close up photos of the heads each Whooper Swan (as did Gus Ariss and John Judge) hoping that the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) ran a database, like that they have created for Bewick’s Swan, which would allow us to identify the individual birds and learn something of their movements. My on-line research indicated that such a database was not held for Whooper’s.
History has repeated itself to a remarkable degree. The Iceland Gull has returned to Swanhurst Park, along with a large gull also present there last winter and which caused considerable controversy regarding it’s identity. This gull was the subject of another blog which I recently reproduced as the debate ignited all over again. A Whooper Swan was found by Chris Matthews on Abbey Pool four days ago and I immediately wondered if 1. it was one of last years birds returning? And 2. whether we could answer question 1 by obtaining photos and comparing the bill patterns? Gus Ariss visited Kenilworth on 01/01, obtained the necessary photos and contacted Julia Newth at WWT Slimbridge. It seemed to us both that the bird currently present could confidently be identified as one of last years visitors and Julia confirmed that, though the individual differences in bill patterns of Whooper Swans are more subtle than those of Bewick’s they can none-the-less be used and this was indeed a returning bird. Gus has prepared a comparative plate utilising photos I took last year and his own taken yesterday.
Images A and B are of the returning bird and image C is the other individual present in 2017. The circled area indicates an obvious individual marking. One difference that is apparent is in the amount of black immediately in front of the end point of the white feathering at the base of the bill. It seems likely this is due to relative regrowth following moult, the Handbook of Birds of the Western Palearctic (BWP) gives body moult as completed in December and the 2018 photo was taken a month earlier than that obtained in 2017.
Another thing I speculated about in last year’s blog was the origin of the Kenilworth swans, given their confiding nature. It occurred to me that this could easily be explained by the fact that large numbers of wild Whoopers are now fed at WWT reserves around the country, though I didn’t discuss the hypothesis. I did however refer to an observation made by John Oates that the species would take food on lakes in the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik. Julia confirmed both of these facts may explain the Kenilworth birds readiness to come to food and that in her opinion the birds were indeed wild. She also confirmed that increasing numbers of Whooper Swans now occur at Slimbridge. This accords with experience in Warwickshire where Bewick’s Swan has become increasingly rare, as the number wintering in the UK (and Slimbridge) has decreased but Whooper Swan occurs more regularly than it used to.
It is often said there is no such thing as a free lunch. It appears that for wild birds there sometimes is and it’s value is apparent from the the fact that they commit locations where it has previously been available to memory.
I have yet to return to Swanhurst Park but plan to do so and expand this blog, or create another follow up, soon.